Cause Mapping®: Effective Root Cause Analysis
Cause Mapping®—a simple and effective method of analyzing, documenting, communicating and solving a problem—shows how individual cause-and-effect relationships connect and lead to the ultimate incident. It can take any issue involving multiple people, groups, departments, even the different perspectives expressed by those involved, and organize it all onto one visual map that points the way to the best solutions.
The approach involves three steps:
- Define the issue within the context of the organization’s overall goals
- Identify and analyze the causes;
- Find and implement solutions.
This section summarizes the three basic steps behind creating an effective Cause Map, and then concludes by building a sample Cause Map around one of the most well-known catastrophes in history: the sinking of the Titanic.
Step 1: Defining the Problem (Problem Outline) Cause Mapping defines a problem via simple outline involving four questions:
- The impact to the overall goals of the organization?
These come from the bedrock elements of journalism finding the "who, what, when, where, why, and how" about an event—though with important changes. Note that we don’t include the “who,” as in “Who did it?” As many managers know, that’s not the most effective way to get people to share what they know. As for the “why” and “how,” these don’t define the problem but instead describe cause-and-effect information and evidence; hence, they are left for the analysis in Step 2.
So in this step we are left with “what,” “when,” “where,” and one other question that asks about the impact to the organization’s so-called “overall goals.” These truly define the importance of any problem. They represent an ideal state of affairs, and any deviation from it represents a problem—an undesirable effect or situation. We call them “overall” goals because they are same for every department and group within the organization.
Try asking any two people in a power plant, “How many injuries do you want to have on a given day?” An operator on the floor would give the same answer as the president in the board room: “zero injuries.” The same would happen by asking, “How many megawatt losses do you want on a given day.” The answer is still zero. Overall goals get everyone, regardless of perspective, to give the same answers, which in turn provide a starting point for the next step in Cause Mapping: analysis.
There is not a more effective question at getting disagreement than “what’s the problem?” People see problems differently and, hence, give different answers. Nevertheless, note the first question in the problem outline listed above, “What?” or, more precisely, “What’s the problem?” This is because in Cause Mapping disagreement should never be avoided. We actually anticipate that people may disagree. Seemingly frustrating, it is in fact extremely valuable since these different answers allow us to accommodate different perspectives.